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Best Places to Live if You’re Downsizing

The perfect neighborhoods for those who’ve always dreamed of living by the water, love art and culture, or want your money to go a long way

The Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis has charming waterfront homes within walking distance of shops and restaurants downtown. Photograph by Erik Uecke

Always Dreamed of Living by the Water


Real-estate agent Mike Hamby says he gets contacted every week by about a dozen potential buyers who want to move to Annapolis after their children have left home.

For empty-nesters who fantasize about living near the water, now may be a good time to buy in the Annapolis area. Three of the city’s Zip codes—21401, 21403, and 21409—have seen prices fall in recent years. In 21401, median prices have dropped by 5½ percent over the past three years, to $375,000; in 21409, median prices fell by just over 3 percent, to $347,000. The biggest decline was in Zip code 21403, just south of downtown Annapolis, where prices are down by almost 20 percent, to a median 2011 price of $318,500. In all three Zip codes, homes sat on the market more than 100 days.

Real-estate agent Kimberly Barton says foreclosures played a big role in dragging prices down. While foreclosures are finally leveling off, there are still good deals to be had, especially for buyers willing to do some work, such as renovating a kitchen.

In addition to water views and a strong boating culture, Annapolis offers continuing education at Anne Arundel Community College, performances by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and art classes and exhibits at Maryland Hall. Murray Hill resident and magazine publisher Donna Jefferson, whose youngest son is in college, sees many of the same faces at her favorite coffee shop, Hard Bean Coffee & Booksellers, every morning. She loves to walk along the water. “You get so you know when high tide is,” Jefferson says, “when the jellyfish and crabs are coming in—you get into that whole rhythm.”

Love Art and Culture

DC’s West End/Foggy Bottom

Recent development has breathed new life into the West End and Foggy Bottom. A mixed-use project on George Washington University’s campus called Square 54 has added a 36,000-square-foot Whole Foods as well as office space, a luxury apartment building, and a handful of new restaurants. “There are a lot of students, a lot of young professionals, more and more young families, and a large retired community,” says Asher Corson, president of the Foggy Bottom Association.

While much of the neighborhood consists of rowhouses built in the early 20th century, a good many high-end, modern condo buildings have opened recently. With amenities such as concierges, valet parking, and fitness centers, they’ve become popular with empty-nesters who no longer want the headache of maintaining a single-family home.

The revitalization may help explain why prices in the 20037 Zip code are up by close to 15 percent over the last three years—and up by 6 percent from 2010 to 2011, when the median home price reached $505,000. Prices in the new, high-end condo buildings can be much higher—a two-bedroom, two-bath in 22 West, in the West End, sold in September for $1.6 million.

The neighborhood offers easy access to the Foggy Bottom Metro station, several bus lines, and the Capital Crescent Trail. The restaurants and shops of Dupont Circle and Georgetown are 15-minute walks away. Nearby museums include the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection. George Washington University, which lets neighborhood seniors audit college courses at a reduced rate, is another draw.

Barbara Howey, 65, and her husband moved to the Watergate after raising their family near San Francisco. They attend the Kennedy Center’s free Millennium Stage performances almost every evening. “We just walk down there,” Howey says. “It’s ideal.”

Want Your Money to go a Long Way


Chantilly offers easy access to the Appalachian Trail, the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia wineries, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. But perhaps the biggest draw for empty-nesters is its affordability. “You can get quite a bit of house,” says real-estate agent Colin Storm, “or downsize and really cut costs.” Storm adds that many empty-nesters make the move before they retire, especially if they work in Northern Virginia.

About 25 miles west of Washington, Chantilly comprises two Zip codes: 20152, which had a 2011 median house price of $416,850, and 20151, where the median was $339,950. Although both Zip codes have held their value pretty well in recent years, the more rural 20152 has seen prices soften as new developments created an oversupply of housing. In 20151, the neighborhoods consist mostly of large Colonials built in the 1980s and ’90s. Because of the limited housing supply, the market there has been stronger.

Grace Han Wolf, owner of the paint-your-own-pottery studio Clay Cafe Chantilly, says grandmothers often bring their grandchildren into the store. The local community center, the Cub Run RECenter, has a pool, a fitness center, and a nature program for adults. The Dulles Expo Center regularly hosts events, from flea markets to craft festivals, and residents recently came together to raise money to renovate Chantilly Regional Library, which originally opened in 1995. Quick access to Dulles Airport makes visiting and hosting grandchildren relatively easy.

Says Wolf: “There’s everything an empty-nester might want within 30 minutes.”

Value Convenience


In the past two decades, several large planned developments have been built around Gaithersburg, creating communities where residents can eat, shop, and play within walking distance of home. Lakelands, for example, has more than 1,000 condos, apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes. Residents can dine at Tandoori Nights or Buca di Beppo and do their grocery shopping at the nearby Whole Foods or Giant. The community has its own pool, tennis courts, and clubhouse.

“We had a spike in prices back in 2005, 2006, and 2007,” says Gaithersburg broker Roy Kelley. “Now prices are back down.” In the 20882 Zip code, prices have fallen by almost 11 percent over the past three years, bringing the median home price to $580,000 in 2011. Homes sat on the market an average of 112 days in 2011, much longer than the 78-day average in the Washington area.

But in certain hot spots, houses sell briskly. Susie Danick, 51, recently traded townhouses in Kentlands. Both sold close to their asking price within two weeks of being listed. “If things are priced appropriately, they sell very quickly,” she says. Danick moved to Kentlands right before her eldest child left for college. “We didn’t want the maintenance of a big house anymore, and I can walk everywhere. It’s easier living.”

Built in the 1990s, Kentlands has single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments as well as restaurants, an arts center, a theater, clothing boutiques, and a grocery store. Danick walks her dogs every morning around the community’s two lakes.

In 2000, Danick launched a business, Transitional Assistance & Design, to help people who are moving to smaller homes. Demand has grown so much that she now has 25 employees.

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